Digital Darwinism and the Future of the Staffing Salesperson

Updated: Feb 12


In 1999, Evan I. Schwartz published a book called Digital Darwinism and opened with the following:

When Charles Darwin presented his theory of evolution in 1859, he described a world in which only the fittest survive, a world in which species must constantly adapt to their changing environment or face extinction, a world in which organisms must continue to grow in a profitable direction and develop new skills and traits or perish, a world in which life-forms must look around and instinctively know with whom to cooperate and with whom to compete, a world in which the surrounding conditions for life can, suddenly and drastically, improve or take a turn for the worse. Darwin even wrote that we are all “bound by a complex web of relations.”

As you reflect on what you just read, I challenge you to think about how the staffing salesperson must evolve to experience success in the future.

1. “A world in which only the fittest survive. A world in which species must constantly adapt to their changing environment or face extinction.” The average staffing salesperson must migrate from “checking in” and asking if the customer if they’ve “got any needs?” to being a diagnostically oriented, solutions salesperson focused on helping the customer optimize their workforce.

2. "A world in which organisms must continue to grow in a profitable direction and develop new skills and traits or perish.” If we replace the word “organisms” with “salespeople” this works perfectly for 2020. They need to develop new skills and traits through:

a. Pre-call planning and preparation

b. Effective questioning

c. Active listening

d. Leveraging historical data

e. Understanding the customer’s strategic initiatives

Otherwise, they will be replaced by technology. It’s real simple: technology for transactions, people for relationships. Relationships are forged through empathy, effective questioning, and active listening. In short, it is the ability to understand the customer’s operating reality.

3. “A world in which life-forms must look around and instinctively know with whom to cooperate and with whom to compete.” Nothing infuriates me more than when I hear a staffing executive say, “I like a healthy tension between my sales and recruiting teams.” Really? Having 18,000 competitors isn’t enough for you? You like to pit your people against each other forming competitive relationships? Wow! How does that benefit your customers? That typically creates a high drama quotient, back-biting and wasting valuable time on “he said-she said.” Here are a few things I’ve learned in thirty-seven years of business:

a. Business is a team sport—no one succeeds alone

b. Collaborative relationship between departments create the highest customer value

c. Winning breeds winning

Salespeople have to be really good at taking a job order (see 2B, 2C) and effectively communicate the details to the recruiters. The recruiters must then ask a series of questions to check for understanding, understand skill priorities and be a demanding partner in the name of delivering a quality submittal.

I think author Patrick Lencioni said it best:

Not finance. Not strategy. Not technology.

It is teamwork that remains the ultimate competitive advantage.

Both because it is so powerful and because it is so rare.

Patrick Lencioni, Author “The Five Dysfunctions of a Team”

4. "A world in which the surrounding conditions for life can drastically improve or take a turn for the worse." Over the last 25 years we’ve seen the proliferation of the Internet, 9/11, The Great Recession, and the beginning stages of Artificial Intelligence. I think it is safe to say, that the only thing that remains constant is change. The ability to change requires an ability to learn. We must create learning organizations. The way we work, will never be the same. The skills we need will be dramatically different. To be successful, we must develop human-only traits such as creativity, imagination, intuition and ethics. Remember, a company is only as good as the people who represent it.

5. “We’re all bound by a complex web of relations.” We are all connected, and guess what? Mobile, social media, wearables, Internet of Things, everything in real-time — these are just some of the disrupting technologies to date. These things change how people communicate and carry incredible implications for the staffing business in general. It is clear that AI will replace the sourcing role and leave sales and recruiting for relationships.

So, I have a question for you as a staffing leader, salesperson or recruiter: are you aligning with Digital Darwinism or fighting it? Consider this: you are either part of the solution or part of the problem. There is no middle ground. Lead, follow or get out of the way. Don’t stand on the tracks when the digital train is coming through.

At Butler Street, we help staffing leaders, sales and recruiters embrace changes aligning/adapting and leveraging teamwork. Contact us and let us show you how we can help your company adapt to Digital Darwinism.